Bengaluru: "To the Muslims in Karnataka, the BJP is a monster, a huge cultural and security threat," says Muzaffar Azadi, professor at Department of Political Science at Mysore University. "I’d say they trust Siddaramaiah more than the Congress party," Azadi says, which should be good news for the party, given that Muslims, comprising 13 percent of the population according to the 2011 census, are the largest religious minority in the state, and the second largest voting bloc after the SCs and STs.
In at least eight constituencies Muslims make up at least half the population and in a dozen more seats they can play a decisive role in deciding the winner. Not surprisingly, the BJP does not have a single Muslim candidate. The Congress and JD(S) do have Muslim candidates, but their numbers in the Assembly have been dwindling with each election, even though it is expected that this election will see caste and religious lines being drawn more sharply than usual.
"There are no surprises in the number of minority candidates fielded by any of the major parties,” says Azadi. “Most of the tickets have been given to candidates who have been MLAs before or are related to former MLAs.”
Even in seats which have a substantial Muslim population, parties have been hesitant to put up a Muslim candidate as their winnability was not certain.
The Congress has fielded 15 Muslim candidates (Congress Muslim leaders had demanded 30), while the JD(S) has 17. But the JD(S) faces a “trust deficit among Muslims as they are seen as having helped the BJP grow in the state,” said Azadi — an argument vehemently refuted by the party’s state minority president Syed Mohid Altaf.
“We are the natural choice for Muslims,” Altaf argued, “Obviously the BJP doesn’t care about minorities. And Congress only uses the Muslim community as a vote bank.”
Congress state minority cell chief Ahmed Syed was quick to rebut this, saying “the minority community is behind us given the many benefits they have received from the current government.” Apart from the Bhagya schemes and loan waivers, “the government’s setting aside the cow slaughter bill passed by BS Yeddyurappa the minorities will remember come polling day.”
This potential division of the Muslim vote is what the community fears most, though Azadi insists that the "the general sentiment now among Muslims is strongly pro-Congress. However, Altaf points out that many important Muslim leaders now in the Congress like Roshan Baig, CM Ibrahim and Zameer Khan were initially discovered by the JD(S), and “it was Deve Gowda who introduced 4 percent reservation for Muslims" in education and employment. "Our party also initiated Tipu Jayanti celebrations,” he said.
Also, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi will campaign for the party although a proposed seat sharing proposal fell through. But Azadi sticks to his view of Muslims supporting Congress this time, saying “there is even a call among the community that they should vote for Congress rather than anyone else”.
Amidst speculation of who will get the Muslim vote, the BJP remains aloof, with senior party leader Anwar Mandipaddy, despite the party not having a single Muslim candidate, claiming “they are very much a part of us". "Our manifesto will definitely open the eyes of Muslims and will see them flooding to BJP,” Mandipaddy said.
He said the party is scouting for good minority community candidates although some like him are not keen to contest. "When we are sure they are able to contest elections successfully, we will definitely give them seats. Besides, Yeddyurappa gave the greatest gift to Muslims by ensuring that illegal encroachment of wakf property doesn’t happen,” he said.
But it remains to be seen if that be enough to allay the Muslims’ greatest fear as articulated by Prof Muzaffar Azadi, that if the BJP comes to power, it will be the “end of the community, their practices, lifestyle, even their identities”.
The author is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: May 07, 2018 08:25 AM